The search for philosophical and experimental force
of cinematic form was evident at Indian Panorama of the International Film Festival of India (November, 2014) at Goa. The show case event mounted 26 Indian feature films and 15 Indian non-feature films, and in 2013-14. The Section also screened films on ‘North East Tales of Women’, Tributes to Jahnu Barua (Assam) and Gulzar (Hindi) and Vintage selects of acclaimed films.
Drum beats keep the pulse beat elevated in Shaji K Karun’s ‘‘Swapaanam —The Voiding Soul’’ (2013, Malyalam, colour, 152 mins). In 1980, there is a fire in Mental Asylum, Salam. The fire rages, while a man is chained to a tree. An old man wearing a dhoti, with bare torso and necklace with beads, climbs out of a slush mud field. The madman and Pallasar village are under the spell of spirit Cunni, who brings misfortunes. There are burnt bodies on open spaces, and two policemen approach. The scenario shifts to musicians garlanded with currency notes. Raman, Acchatan and Unni are on drums. Drummers share cash with Unni. At Pushpatta’s toddy shop, there is Kuttan singing. Unni (Jayaram) pays for the drinks. A drummer’s life is recalled by an old man. Unni is the magical performer of the ‘Chenda’ drum. The drum being touched by a man’s hands, is like touching a man’s life. Unni also draws and sketches. Village elders request Unni to teach children the skills of playing drums.
The ‘Chenda’ drum with its lyrical beats expresses what is in the hands of the drummer, and the inner thoughts of the mind. The drummers gather in courtyards and play. Unni is immersed in a life of drinking country liquor and beating the ‘Chenda’ drum. The sound track reverberates with the fusion of shenai, drums and cymbals. Unni has a graceful wife (Lakshmi Gopalaswamy) who stays at home. He has an encounter with an accomplished classical dancer, Nalini (Kadambari) belonging to an upper caste Namboodiri family. He visits Nalini at her house, and Nalini dances the Mohiniyattam, with full grace, in step with the beat of the ‘Chenda’ drum. Nalini is unmarried. A relationship develops. The month of Spring flowers minds. Unni plays the drums and Nalini dances. The drum music carries the sequences with Nalini’s dance, without dialogue. Nalini teaches dance to young girls. Unni and Nalini take walks. The sound of drums and words fill Nalini.
Besides streams and rocks, Nalini dances, and the ‘Chenda’ drum provides the rhapsody and rhythms. Soon Unni surpasses his elder brother in drums. One day Nalini’s brother, Namboodri, finds Unni and Nalini in bed. In a fit of rage, the brother drives out Unni, with his drum, as the path of righteousness has been violated. Unni returns home drunk to his wife, Kalyani. His students leave, as he fails to impart proper drum lessons to the young boys. He dreams of Nalini dancing with other girls, and suffers from mental deterioration. He declines to play the drum at ceremonials with elephants, for peace of mind. There are suggestions that Unni’s marriage with wife, Kalyani was unconsummated. Kalyani’s pregnancy is discovered, and she decides on a new life with old boy friend, Prakashan. Unni sings alone with his ‘Chenda’. Nalini is also alone, holding a tanpura, but agonized before gods and goddesses. Her husband is transgender, with pollution obsession. She too day dreams of Unni. When Unni offers his earnings to his younger brother, he declines to accept. Unni sets the currency notes on fire. Folk musicians arrive, and request Unni as head musician. Unni plays the drum at rural festivals, and dreams of Nalini dancing. Nalini’s husband plays the violin at night. One day a lightening bolt hits the hay sheds of the mansion, fire engulfs, and Nalini’s husband is burnt up. Astrological calculations within the family go wrong. Unni walks in delirium. The ‘Chenda’ drum is made from old wood. There is a ‘Chenda’ drum concert. Unni plays percussion amidst a flutter of drums. Nalini drowns in a pond, suspected suicide. Villagers accuse Unni for bringing curse. He is tied to a tree, with fire all around. With rains and sunrise Unni’s mother takes a walk along a long road.
‘‘Swapaanam’’ in trying to create artistic stirring from passion, emotional isolation, inner fears, and arrogance, is full of contrived situations, which rely more on the excitement of situations and the exotic. The ‘Chenda’ drum beat is the decor of the film. But Shaji’s narrative lacks energy, and is often repetitious. Beautifully shot by Saji Nair, the camera movements are unable to modulate the attention grabbing substance. The shared passion of drums and dance is far from enacting fiction with reality. The film fails to explore the attempts of the lead artists to reinvest their existence. In spite of Shaji Karun’s moving considerations for the drummer and the dancer, the images lack sober clarity. The acting brings out the palpable expressions of passion and pain.
‘‘A Rainy Day’’ (2013, Marathi, colour, 89 mins) by Rajendra Talak, unfolds with rain and thunder sounds, as a car negotiates city roads in rain. Aniket (Mrinal Kulkarni), a senior executive of a private sector company, reaches a hospital. He has just been appointed head of a project company, in a new era of development. A promotion awaits him in the office. A doctor phones that wife, Mugdha (Harsh Chaya) is pregnant. Old reminiscences splurge, retelling that Aniket’s parents had declined to give Aniket a cycle, and later Aniket had snatched a cycle from another girl. As the office work gets hectic, Mugdha resents office meetings. The office proposes to set up a dream milk project in Goa. Wife gets to know that Aniket had purchased a diamond ring, worth Rs 1.12 lacs for boss’s wife. Office intrigues follow. The milk products factory would be changed to a liquor factory [worth Rs 400 crore] with political under dealings. Aniket has an affair with an office girl, Simran, who is also provided to influential people. One day Mugdha discovers high denomination notes in husband Aniket’s brief case. She accuses the husband of greed, and demands where Rs 500 crore has vanished. Clumsily she throws away clothes from almirahs and suitcases. In an atmosphere of natural sounds, Sanjay Jadhav’s camera is fast paced in filming the unsetting scenes of embarrassing disclosures. Talak’s film has a high degree of melodrama, but lacks aesthetic austerity and pacing, to depict the psychological pressures of pregnant wife.
Vol. 47, No. 52, July 5 - 11, 2015